By Thomas Gerbasi
Like it or not, it’s a brand new world when it comes to the broadcasting of boxing. And yes, it will cost you. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as there will be more content available than ever before.
And while it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that watching fights on basic or premium cable is free, a look at the bill every month will remind you that it isn’t. But do fight fans want another bill or two or three for streaming services? No. But increasingly, it is a price that will have to be paid, considering that the big boys of the fight game are making deals to fully take their content into the digital age.
Top Rank fired the first salvo, teaming up with ESPN last year and then upping that deal to seven years in August, putting 54 live events on the network per year, along with archival material and shoulder programming, with a focus on the ESPN+ streaming service.
But in May, the new kid on the block made its move, as Perform Group’s DAZN announced that it was moving into the United States market with a focus on combat sports. The centerpiece of the deal is that Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing will produce 16 U.S. shows, along with 16 U.K. shows, to be aired on the streaming service. The next season of the World Boxing Super Series was a great pull as well. But the biggie was the one billion dollar rights deal over eight years that will give Hearn the cash to add to his roster and produce the kind of fights that will draw in subscribers at $9.99 per month.
DAZN’s app premiered last week, but the true kickoff of the service here in the States will be Saturday’s heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin. With a free month available to all new users, this weekend’s event should do good numbers, but now the trick is keeping those users past the one month mark.
So providing value for money is the key, something the DAZN team expects to do, just like they have in markets around the world.
“In every market, we very quickly get a lot of fans because of the price point and the content,” said DAZN Director of Product Marcus Parnwell. “In Japan, as an example, we have local soccer and baseball, which are the two biggest sports. We then have 25 football leagues from Europe, and we have all the U.S. sports for 1700 yen, which is 15 bucks a month. We’re taking sport and making it accessible on your device at your time, the way you want to watch it. But also breaking the traditional broadcast rules.”
That means showing no commercials unless contractually obligated, and also pulling off what has turned to be a must for any streaming service – the ability to watch what you want, when you want it, and on whatever device you want to see it on.
“We want to give you access to the content and we want to make sure the platform works best for that content,” said Parnwell. “We see the majority of our playback, up to 75 percent in some markets, on big screen TVs. And that’s where you want to watch your sport. But we will be on all major platforms in this market. Our researcher has said we will probably be on the most platforms than any of our OTT sports friends and competitors. And for us, it’s very important that we allow fans to watch boxing content on their device.”
So whether it’s your TV, computer, smart phone or video game console, you can watch the fights you want to see. It’s a stark reminder of how things have changed in the fight game and, again, that’s not a bad thing because competition is a good thing.
At the moment, ESPN+ has to be considered the leader in the race, not just because of the price point ($4.99 vs. $9.99), but also because of the amount of non-boxing content to go along with a Top Rank archive that includes some of the greatest fights in boxing history, as well as Top Rank’s willingness to work with rival promoters Main Events and Frank Warren to put some of their big fights on ESPN. But DAZN is willing to dig in and fire back, and they’re focusing on folks punching each other.
“We’re going to be active in the rights landscape, but we’ve chosen to center on fight sports,” said DAZN Director of Programming Scott Woodgate, who also wants to add to the existing and ever growing archive of fights on the service. “When it comes to rights in the boxing industry, you have to make deals along the way and libraries are owned by different people and fighters are involved in some of the ownership. So from our point of view, we’re trying to acquire archive libraries as we go and we’re going to start loading on more and more archive content as we go.”
While that process continues, there’s already enough content to keep a fight fan busy on DAZN USA. For example, if you want to watch each of Joshua’s 21 pro fights, you can. That’s good stuff. Add in full fight week coverage, and that’s another key selling point.
“Fight week stuff will be very important to what we do,” said Woodgate, whose job is to produce content that will take fans beyond what happens on fight night.
“We’ll be speaking about the fighters themselves – their journey, going behind the scenes – which is not a new format, but that’s important,” he said. “I think fight fans really want to have a relationship with the fighters. We want to make that connection and we’re gonna have to find new fight fans too, so we want to make sure we highlight the personality of the fighters.”
And there’s the key. Finding new fans. The diehards, as much as they may complain about paying for services like DAZN and ESPN+, will pay for it because they will want to see everything. So how do you bring in the new fan? Technology helps, and DAZN’s design is clean and accessible. But content wise, ESPN+ has an advantage again because the person who subscribed for football or baseball may stumble across a Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko fight and get hooked. With DAZN only having MMA, soccer, cycling and cricket to go along with boxing on its sports roster at the moment, it could be tougher getting non-combat sports fans from the U.S. in the door. Or will it be?
“I wasn’t a massive fight lover,” said Parnwell. “I’m a cricket / soccer guy, but I’ve been loving the MMA during the (product) test and I was at a boxing match a few months ago in Brooklyn, and it’s an amazing sport. At the pay-per-view price point, I’m not gonna get involved, but with a free month and $10 after that, I’ll try it out and see what I get.”
A free month is a nice gateway drug to the sweet science. And the DAZN gang is willing to do what it takes to keep you here.
“It’s gonna be a great journey,” said Woodgate. “We’re really looking forward to the content journey and learning as we go from fight fans and the data that we have to see what people want to watch and curating the content on the platform to match what people want to see. It’s going to be a really fun process.”